At the end of 2017, I made the decision that I would be taking a year off from producing my weekly radio show for Intergalactic FM to focus on my own productions as DVS NME. I was fully prepared to head into the new year with the same old gear I’d always used - Yamaha Rm1x, Microkorg, Reason (DAW), and various iPad apps - however, fate had something else in mind. I received the TR-08 as a gift from my girlfriend in the beginning of October 2017 and the remaining 3 months of the year are a complete blur.
Suddenly I was upgrading computers, buying furniture, ordering Boutiques and completely gutting and re-building my home studio. Now, 4 months from "completion" of my current studio setup, I’ve been asked to talk a little bit about each of the Boutiques I acquired to highlight how I use them and what I like/dislike about the series.
This was the first boutique that I got over the course of the time that it took for me to buy all of the modules that we will cover in this article. The TR-08 was a gift, and honestly was the catalyst for me rebuilding my studio. There isn’t anything that I can say negative about this machine and I’m sure no one is surprised by that. All the features of the original TR-808 with some additional goodies built in. My personal favorite of which is the sub-step programming option, which allows for 16 sub-steps per step that are great for the creation of snare fills and rolling hi-hats.
When Roland inevitably recreates this again in 5-10 years I would love to see some options for adding onboard effects like delay, reverb, bit crusher, etc. In addition, the inability to easily mute/solo tracks is a bit of a disappointment on this model, but given its size, I can completely understand. The classic sounds of Electro-Funk, Hip-Hop, Techno, and countless pop hits in a smaller and more affordable package. What more can you want?
The JU-06 I acquired was purchased only two days after receiving my TR-08 and I immediately fell in love with it. Growing up in the 80’s, my parents raised me on an audio-diet of bands like Yaz, George Michael, New Order, Cyndi Lauper and Depeche Mode, so naturally I was swept up into a cloud of nostalgia right away. I never personally got the chance to play on an original Juno 106 in real life, so my ability to compare the original to the boutique is non-existent. However, every synthesizer fanatic that I know personally has said that this rendition of the synth is about as spot-on as you can get. This synth really convinced me that Roland’s ACB technology was on par, and that my journey into eventually owning 5 Boutique models was a must. I mainly use this for pads in my own productions as they are about as lush as a Roland pad gets. The only major point of contention I have had with this (and the JX-03) is the sequencer.
I find that the 16-step sequencer just isn’t enough to use as a standalone. Often times I need more than one bar of sequence to express myself sonically. However, with such a wide range of cheap controllers available, I was quick to mitigate the concern by having my Yamaha Rm1x feed the module sequencing data via MIDI. If you are looking for a compact, affordable, and reliable tool to get those New Wave sounds, snatch up one (or two) of these as soon as possible.
A synth fanatic friend of mine (The Outsider) urged me to get this when he found out I was starting to collect boutiques, and boy am I happy I took his advice. Two digitally controlled oscillators were the big selling point on this machine for me, unlike the Juno which only features one. The other thing I like about programming this module is the device features dials and knobs rather than the sliders found on the other machines. My favorite sounds in this machine are the string sounds for their rich, big warm sound as well as some of the weirder sounds that quickly venture into Das Muster territory. All of the factory patches are great starting points, and the module’s options for manipulation of the sound make it an easy go-to during my time in the studio.
This is my absolute favorite of the Roland Boutique models that I currently own. This classic monophonic beast features a simplistic 1-VCO, 1-VCF, 1-VCA, 1-LFO design, and does not disappoint by any stretch of the imagination. The original monophonic design has been thwarted by Roland removing the limitation, and providing full 4-note polyphony. Chords and chords and chords for days! This synth is extremely easy to get lost in and is always the boutique that I turn on and slide in front of a newcomer/visitor to my studio. This machine makes it easy to sound great even if you have no experience and people immediately are struck by its bubbly, distinctive bass sounds. The 100-step sequencer, selectable advanced LFO, and onboard arpeggiator are easily enough to make this worth the money. This device combined with the TB-03 and the TR-08 make for never-ending jam sessions in my home studio. Absolutely recommended!
This was the last boutique that I got in the bunch and I wasn’t really sure if I was going to like it. I have never really been an overwhelming fan of Acid in the grand scheme of music. I always felt as though too many producers used it as a crutch when more melody should have been their focus. I fully assumed I would end up trading it out for the JP-08 after a couple months, but I was about as wrong as I have ever been.
At first, I had to have it because of its iconic status, however after a few minutes of programming this module I realized why the people behind all the Acid music (that I mostly overlooked) were so drawn to this machine. Simply put, the parameter editing of this machine is addictive. Perhaps it’s the limits of the machine that allow programmers to focus on subtle changes that can be heard by slightly adjusting the knobs. I’ll always use it as a supporting track in a song, however I find myself getting lost in infinite knob turning-holes during live sessions. The addition of the onboard delay and overdrive is an amazing touch that leaves room for even more strange sound composition. Definitely worth the coin if you are interested in creating anything that even remotely resembles Acid.
I really do give Roland a lot of credit for this series of machines for reigniting my passion for fiddling with sliders and knobs. I’m excited for what the future holds for synthesizers as technology becomes more affordable and accessible. Personally, I have always been a big fan of minimalism in my studio design and these little pieces of gear allow for a lot of big sound with small amounts of space for occupancy. As much as I love the look of Anthony Rother’s spaceship studio, it’s not feasible for me with a bedroom studio in my home, nor do I have that Electro House money that allows for a studio to become a Sci-Fi set.
Thankfully Roland has delivered on an amazing series of synths that will inspire a new generation of producers to squeeze as much as possible out of these vintage masterpiece recreations.
While there is quite a nice catalog available of DVS NME's music out there, take some time to check out some of his unreleased tunes he has been working on so far: